What to expect on the first day of school: From testing to masks and more

Three rounds of September Covid testing will evaluate the situation in schools, and new rules will cover wearing masks in common spaces.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 31.08.2021 14:58 (updated on 01.09.2021)

As schools prepare to welcome back Czech students to school tomorrow, there are some significant changes this year, mostly involving testing for Covid at the start of the year as well as masking mandates.

Unlike last year, all classes will take place in schools. Rotation with home schooling is not currently planned.

Preventive screening of schoolchildren will take place three times in early September. Schools will use either antigen or PCR tests. Antigen tests for this purpose should have already been delivered. Schools that opted for PCR tests have to make their own arrangements. Only 200 schools had chosen PCR testing by the deadline.

The first tests will be performed on the first or second day of school. The school principal can decide the dates for first and senior grades. Subsequent dates for antigen tests are Sept. 6 and Sept. 9. If the school opted for PCR tests, only one test per week is needed until Sept. 10.

Testing at school can also be replaced by a valid negative test from a collection point. Children and pupils who have properly completed vaccinations or have recovered from Covid in the past 180 days are not required to undergo preventive testing.

"If a child refuses to be tested, he or she will have to wear a respirator from the age of 15, both in the school building and outdoors, if it is not possible to keep a distance of 1.5 meters from other pupils," Health Minister Adam Vojtěch when the rules were announced.

The rules covering testing are valid through Sept. 10. The Health Ministry and Education Ministry will then evaluate the results.

If there are more than 25 positive cases per 100,000 tests at schools in one district, Covid testing there will continue once a week until the end of September, Health Minister Adam Vojtěch said when the rules were announced.

For children who test positive for Covid-19 via an antigen test, a PCR test must follow. Children who were in contact with an infected person in the previous days will also need to undergo a PCR test, Vojtěch said, adding that entire classes will not be closed.

Schools will also be required to isolate pupils with infection symptoms, with the Education ministries recommending that administrators set up a dedicated isolation room. Hand sanitizers and a washbasin with running warm water should be available in these locations. Such an isolation room should also be available in school dormitories.

Schools should also have a contactless thermometer to measure temperatures if there is a suspected infection, as well as sufficient reserves of disinfectants and face masks or respirators in case children forget them at home.

School employees must also submit a test certificate on the same dates as the childrens' testing. They can also use self-test kits at schools. If they do not do so, they will have to wear face masks all the time at school unless they are fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid in the past 180 days.

“If the child or pupil does not undergo preventive screening testing and is not covered by the relevant exemption from testing (recovery or vaccination), they will be obliged to wear respiratory protection throughout their stay at school and in school facilities, meaning in the classroom and in common areas of the school,” the Education Ministry states on its website.

Students who refuse Covid-19 testing and cannot prove their Covid status otherwise will also be temporarily banned from attending physical education classes indoors and won't be allowed to sing at school.

Mask requirements

Everyone – children, pupils, students, employees, visitors – is obliged to cover their nose and mouth when entering the school building and in common areas. There are some exemptions for people with specific physical or mental disabilities.

Children and pupils do not have to wear face coverings when seated, when consuming food and drink, or during exercise.

Other technical changes include hand sanitizers with dispensers being made available at the entrance to the school buildings and outside all classrooms, gyms, and school cafeterias.

In school cafeterias, contact between various groups should be limited. A maximum of six people should sit at one table.

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All areas frequently touched by multiple people, such as door handles, switches, and keyboards, should be disinfected several times a day.

New tutoring program

Another change affects learners who fell behind last year. Tutoring sessions for these pupils will be made available. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been interfering with the education regime in Czech schools since March 2020. The exclusion of full-time teaching has significant negative effects on pupils' educational results and an increase in educational inequalities,” the Education Ministry states.

The ministry has set aside CZK 250 million for a National Tutoring Plan to mitigate the negative effects of last year’s rotation program. The plan will support individual and group tutoring in all Czech primary and secondary schools as well conservatories. Direct tutoring will take place until Dec. 31.

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There are also new rules for school-leavers' exams and final exams. If more than 20 people are present for the test, including candidates, examiners, and other parties, they must provide evidence of Covid vaccination, recovery, or a recent Covid test result. Candidates and examiners do not have to wear face coverings if a distance of 1.5 meters between people is maintained.

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